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Carofino, BL, Ayanga, B, and Justice, MJ 2013. A mouse model for inducible overexpression of the pluripotency factor Prdm14 results in rapid-onset highly penetrant T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), Disease Models and Mechanisms 6(6): 1494-1506. PMID: 24046360

PRDM14 functions in embryonic stem cell (ESC) maintenance to promote the expression of pluripotency-associated genes while suppressing differentiation genes. Expression of PRDM14 is tightly regulated and typically limited to ESCs and primordial germ cells; however, aberrant expression is associated with tumour initiation in a wide variety of human cancers, including breast cancer and leukemia. Here, we describe the generation of a Cre-recombinase-inducible mouse model for the spatial and temporal control of Prdm14 misexpression [ROSA26 floxed-stop Prdm14 (R26PR)]. When R26PR is mated to either of two Cre lines, Mx1-cre or MMTV-cre, mice develop early-onset T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) with median overall survival of 41 and 64 days for R26PR;Mx1-cre and R26PR;MMTV-cre, respectively. T-ALL is characterized by the accumulation of immature single-positive CD8 cells and their widespread infiltration. Leukemia is preceded by a dramatic expansion of cells resembling hematopoietic stem cells and lymphoid-committed progenitors prior to disease onset, accompanied by a blockage in B-cell differentiation at the early pro-B stage. Rapid-onset PRDM14-induced T-ALL requires factors that are present in stem and progenitor cells: R26PR;dLck-cre animals, which express Prdm14 starting at the double-positive stage of thymocyte development, do not develop disease. PRDM14-induced leukemic cells contain high levels of activated NOTCH1 and downstream NOTCH1 targets, including MYC and HES1, and are sensitive to pharmacological inhibition of NOTCH1 with the γ-secretase inhibitor DAPT. Greater than 50% of human T-ALLs harbour activating mutations in NOTCH1; thus, our model carries clinically relevant molecular aberrations. The penetrance, short latency and involvement of the NOTCH1 pathway will make this hematopoietic R26PR mouse model ideal for future studies on disease initiation, relapse and novel therapeutic drug combinations. Furthermore, breeding R26PR to additional Cre lines will allow for the continued development of novel cancer models.

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Buchovecky, CM, Turley, SC, Brown, HM, Kyle, SM, McDonald, JG, Liu, B, Pieper, A, Huang, W, Katz, D, Russell, DW, Shendure, J, and Justice, MJ 2013. A suppressor screen in mouse Mecp2 implicates cholesterol metabolism in Rett syndrome, Nature Genetics45(9): 1013-1020. PMID:23892605.

Mutations in MECP2, encoding methyl CpG-binding protein 2, cause Rett syndrome, the most severe autism spectrum disorder. Re-expressing Mecp2 in symptomatic Mecp2-null mice markedly improves function and longevity, providing hope that therapeutic intervention is possible in humans. To identify pathways in disease pathology for therapeutic intervention, we carried out a dominant N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU) mutagenesis suppressor screen in Mecp2-null mice and isolated five suppressors that ameliorate the symptoms of Mecp2 loss. We show that a stop codon mutation in Sqle, encoding squalene epoxidase, a rate-limiting enzyme in cholesterol biosynthesis, underlies suppression in one line. Subsequently, we also show that lipid metabolism is perturbed in the brains and livers of Mecp2-null male mice. Consistently, statin drugs improve systemic perturbations of lipid metabolism, alleviate motor symptoms and confer increased longevity in Mecp2 mutant mice. Our genetic screen therefore points to cholesterol homeostasis as a potential target for the treatment of patients with Rett syndrome.

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Simko, SJ, Voicu, H, Carofino, BL, and Justice, MJ 2012. Mouse lymphoblastic leukemias induced by aberrant Prdm14 expression demonstrate widespread copy number alterations also found in human ALL. Cancers 4: 1050-1066. PMID: 23487523

Aberrant expression and activation of oncogenes in somatic cells has been associated with cancer initiation. Required for reacquisition of pluripotency in the developing germ cell, PRDM14 initiates lymphoblastic leukemia when misexpressed in murine bone marrow. Activation of pluripotency in somatic cells can lead to aneuploidy and copy number alterations during iPS cell generation, and we hypothesized that PRDM14-induced lymphoblastic leukemias would demonstrate significant chromosomal damage. High-resolution oligo array comparative genomic hybridization demonstrated infrequent aneuploidy but frequent amplification and deletion, with amplifications occurring in a 5:1 ratio with deletions. Many deletions (i.e., Cdkn2a, Ebf1, Pax5, Ikzf1) involved B-cell development genes and tumour suppressor genes, recapitulating deletions occurring in human leukemia. Pathways opposing senescence were frequently deactivated via Cdkn2a deletion or Tbx2 amplification, with corollary gene expression. Additionally, gene expression studies of abnormal pre-leukemic B-precursors showed downregulation of genes involved in chromosomal stability (i.e.,Xrcc6) and failure to upregulate DNA repair pathways. We propose a model of leukemogenesis, triggered by pluripotency genes like Prdm14, which involves ongoing DNA damage and failure to activate non-homologous end-joining secondary to aberrant gene expression.

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Dettman, EJ, Simko, SJ, Ayanga, B, Carofino, B, Margolin, J, Morse, HC, and Justice, MJ 2011. Prdm14 initiates lymphoblastic leukemia after expanding a population of cells resembling common lymphoid progenitors. Oncogene30(25):2859-73 PMID:21339739

Understanding the heterogeneous genetic mechanisms of tumour initiation in lymphoid leukemias (LL) will lead to improvements in prognostic classification and treatment regimens. In previous studies of mouse leukemias, we showed that retroviral insertion at the ecotropic viral insertion site 32 locus leads to increased expression of Prdm14, a pluripotency gene implicated in the self-renewal capacity of embryonic stem cells and the early stages of breast cancer. Here, we show that PRDM14 is also overexpressed in ∼25% of human lymphoid neoplasms, with increased frequencies in T-cell acute LL and hyperdiploid precursor B-cell acute LL. To test if Prdm14 over expression could initiate leukemia, mice were transduced with bone marrow cells transfected with a Prdm14 expression vector. LLs developed in 96% of female mice and 42% of male mice. Before the onset of leukemia, differentiation of transduced cells was biased up to 1000-fold toward cells with features of common lymphoid progenitors (CLPs), and lymphoid differentiation showed a relative block at the pro-B stage. Microarray gene expression analysis of expanded CLP-like cells before the onset of leukemia demonstrated upregulation of genes involved in pluripotency, tumour initiation, early B-lineage commitment, Wnt/Ras signaling and the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition. Among the dysregulated genes were imprinted genes and non-coding RNAs including Dlk1 and Meg3, which are also key pluripotency mediators. Heightened expression of the estrogen-dependent oncogene, Myb, in tumours suggests a basis for the increased frequency of cancer in female mice. These data provide the first direct evidence for the association of Prdm14 with cancer initiation in an in vivo mouse model and in human lymphoid malignancies, while suggesting mechanisms for Prdm14’s mode of action.

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Fairfield H, Gilbert GJ, Barter M, Corrigan RR, Curtain M, Ding Y, D'Ascenzo M, Gerhardt DJ, He C, Huang W, Richmond T, Rowe L, Probst FJ, Bergstrom DE, Murray SA, Bult C, Richardson J, Kile BT, Gut I, Hager J, Sigurdsson S, Mauceli E, Di Palma F, Lindblad-Toh K, Cunningham ML, Cox TC, Justice MJ, Spector MS, Lowe SW, Albert T, Donahue LR, Jeddeloh J, Shendure J, Reinholdt LG. 2011. Mutation discovery in mice by whole exome sequencing. Genome Biol. 2011 Sep 14;12(9):R86. PMID: 21917142

We report the development and optimization of reagents for in-solution, hybridization-based capture of the mouse exome. By validating this approach in a multiple inbred strains and in novel mutant strains, we show that whole exome sequencing is a robust approach for discovery of putative mutations, irrespective of strain background. We found strong candidate mutations for the majority of mutant exomes sequenced, including new models of orofacial clefting, urogenital dysmorphology, kyphosis and autoimmune hepatitis.

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Zheng L, Michelson Y, Freger V, Avraham Z, Venken KJ, Bellen HJ, Justice MJ*, Wides R*. 2011. Drosophila Ten-m and filamin affect motor neuron growth cone guidance. PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e22956. PMID: 21857973 *Joint corresponding authors.

The Drosophila Ten-m (also called Tenascin-major, or odd Oz (odz)) gene has been associated with a pair-rule phenotype. We identified and characterized new alleles of Drosophila Ten-m to establish that this gene is not responsible for segmentation defects but rather causes defects in motor neuron axon routing. In Ten-m mutants the inter-segmental nerve (ISN) often crosses segment boundaries and fasciculates with the ISN in the adjacent segment. Ten-m is expressed in the central nervous system and epidermal stripes during the stages when the growth cones of the neurons that form the ISN navigate to their targets. Over-expression of Ten-m in epidermal cells also leads to ISN misrouting. We also found that Filamin, an actin binding protein, physically interacts with the Ten-m protein. Mutations in cheerio, which encodes Filamin, cause defects in motor neuron axon routing like those of Ten-m. During embryonic development, the expression of Filamin and Ten-m partially overlap in ectodermal cells. These results suggest that Ten-m and Filamin in epidermal cells might together influence growth cone progression.

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Boles, MK, Wilkinson, BM, Wilming, LG, Liu, B, Probst, FJ, Harrow, J, Grafham, D, Hentges, KE, Woodward, LP, Maxwell, A, Mitchell, K, Risley, MD, Johnson, R, Hirschi, K, Lupski, JR, Funato, Y, Miki, H, Marin-Garcia, P, Matthews, L, Coffey, AJ, Parker, A, Hubbard, TJ, Rogers, J, Bradley, A, Adams, DJ, Justice, MJ 2009. Discovery of candidate disease genes in ENU-induced mouse mutants by large-scale sequencing, including a splice-site mutation in nucleoredoxin, PLoS Genetics 5(12): e1000759 PMID:20011118

An accurate and precisely annotated genome assembly is a fundamental requirement for functional genomic analysis. Here, the complete DNA sequence and gene annotation of mouse Chromosome 11 was used to test the efficacy of large-scale sequencing for mutation identification. We re-sequenced the 14,000 annotated exons and boundaries from over 900 genes in 41 recessive mutant mouse lines that were isolated in an N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU) mutation screen targeted to mouse Chromosome 11. Fifty-nine sequence variants were identified in 55 genes from 31 mutant lines. 39% of the lesions lie in coding sequences and create primarily missense mutations. The other 61% lie in noncoding regions, many of them in highly conserved sequences. A lesion in the perinatal lethal line l11Jus13 alters a consensus splice site of nucleoredoxin (Nxn), inserting 10 amino acids into the resulting protein. We conclude that point mutations can be accurately and sensitively recovered by large-scale sequencing, and that conserved noncoding regions should be included for disease mutation identification. Only seven of the candidate genes we report have been previously targeted by mutation in mice or rats, showing that despite ongoing efforts to functionally annotate genes in the mammalian genome, an enormous gap remains between phenotype and function. Our data show that the classical positional mapping approach of disease mutation identification can be extended to large target regions using high-throughput sequencing.

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Kile, BT, Panopoulos, AD, Stirzaker, RA, Hacking, DF, Tahtamouni, LH, Willson, TA, Mielke, LA, Henley, K J, Zhang, J-G, Wicks, IP, Stevenson, WS, Nurden, P, Watowich, SS and Justice, MJ 2007. Mutations in the cofilin partner Aip1/Wdr1 cause autoinflammatory disease and macrothrombocytopenia, Blood 110(7): 2371-2380.PMID:17515402

A pivotal mediator of actin dynamics is the protein cofilin, which promotes filament severing and depolymerization, facilitating the breakdown of existing filaments, and the enhancement of filament growth from newly created barbed ends. It does so in concert with actin interacting protein 1 (Aip1), which serves to accelerate cofilin’s activity. While progress has been made in understanding its biochemical functions, the physiologic processes the cofilin/Aip1 complex regulates, particularly in higher organisms, are yet to be determined. We have generated an allelic series for WD40 repeat protein 1 (Wdr1), the mammalian homolog of Aip1, and report that reductions in Wdr1 function produce a dramatic phenotype gradient. While severe loss of function at the Wdr1 locus causes embryonic lethality, macrothrombocytopenia and autoinflammatory disease develop in mice carrying hypomorphic alleles. Macrothrombocytopenia is the result of megakaryocyte maturation defects, which lead to a failure of normal platelet shedding. Autoinflammatory disease, which is bone marrow-derived yet nonlymphoid in origin, is characterized by a massive infiltration of neutrophils into inflammatory lesions. Cytoskeletal responses are impaired in Wdr1 mutant neutrophils. These studies establish an essential requirement for Wdr1 in megakaryocytes and neutrophils, indicating that cofilin-mediated actin dynamics are critically important to the development and function of both cell types.

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Castillo, A, Morse, HC III, Godfrey, VL, Naeem, R and Justice, MJ 2007. Overexpression of Eg5 causes genomic instability and tumor formation in mice, Cancer Research 67: 10138-10147. PMID:17974955

Proper chromosome segregation in eukaryotes is driven by a complex superstructure called the mitotic spindle. Assembly, maintenance, and function of the spindle depend on centrosome migration, organization of microtubule arrays, and force generation by microtubule motors. Spindle pole migration and elongation are controlled by the unique balance of forces generated by antagonistic molecular motors that act upon microtubules of the mitotic spindle. Defects in components of this complex structure have been shown to lead to chromosome missegregation and genomic instability. Here, we show that overexpression of Eg5, a member of the Bim-C class of kinesin-related proteins, leads to disruption of normal spindle development, as we observe both monopolar and multipolar spindles in Eg5 transgenic mice. Our findings show that perturbation of the mitotic spindle leads to chromosomal missegregation and the accumulation of tetraploid cells. Aging of these mice revealed a higher incidence of tumour formation with a mixed array of tumour types appearing in mice ages 3 to 30 months with the mean age of 20 months. Analysis of the tumors revealed widespread aneuploidy and genetic instability, both hallmarks of nearly all solid tumours. Together with previous findings, our results indicate that Eg5 overexpression disrupts the unique balance of forces associated with normal spindle assembly and function, and thereby leads to the development of spindle defects, genetic instability, and tumours.

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Zheng, L, Baek, H-J, Karsenty, G and Justice MJ 2007. Filamin B represses chondrocyte hypertrophy in a Runx2/Smad3-dependent manner, Journal of Cell Biology 178: 121-128. PMID:17606870

FILAMIN B, which encodes a cytoplasmic actin binding protein, is mutated in several skeletal dysplasias. To further investigate how an actin binding protein influences skeletogenesis, we generated mice lacking intact Filamin B. As observed in spondylocarpotarsal synostosis syndrome patients, Filamin B mutant mice display ectopic mineralization in many cartilaginous elements. This aberrant mineralization is due to ectopic chondrocyte hypertrophy similar to that seen in mice expressing Runx2 in chondrocytes. Accordingly, removing one copy of Runx2 rescues the Filamin B mutant phenotype, indicating that Filamin B is a regulator of Runx2 function during chondrocyte differentiation. Filamin B binds Smad3, which is known to interact with Runx2. Smad3 phosphorylation is increased in the mutant mice. Thus, Filamin B inhibits Runx2 activity, at least in part, through the Smad3 pathway. Our results uncover the involvement of actin binding proteins during chondrogenesis and provide a molecular basis to a human genetic disease.

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Hentges KE, Pollock DD, Liu B, Justice MJ. 2007. Regional variation in the density of essential genes in mice. PLoS Genet2007 May 4;3(5):e72 PMID:17480122

In most species, and particularly in vertebrates, the percentage of genes absolutely required for survival, the essential genes, has not been estimated. To obtain this estimation, we used the mouse as an experimental model to carry out high-efficiency N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU) mutagenesis screens in two balancer chromosome regions, and compared our results to a third previously published screen. The number of essential genes in each region was predicted based on allele frequencies. We determined that the density of essential genes differs by up to an order of magnitude among genomic regions. This indicates that extrapolating from regional estimates to genome-wide estimates of essential genes has a huge variance. A particularly high density of essential genes on mouse Chromosome 11 coincides with a high degree of regional linkage conservation, providing a possible causal explanation for the density variation. This is the first demonstration of regional variation in essential gene density in the mouse genome.

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Hentges, KE, Weiser, KC, Schountz, T, Woodward, LS, Morse, HC and Justice, MJ 2005. Evi3, a zinc-finger protein related to EBFAZ, regulates EBF activity in B-cell leukemia, Oncogene 24:1220-1230.PMID:15580294

Retroviral insertions that activate proto-oncogenes are a primary cause of tumours in certain strains of mice. The AKXD recombinant inbred mice are predisposed to a variety of leukemias and lymphomas as a result of viral integration. One common insertion site, the ecotropic viral insertion site 3 (Evi3), has been implicated in most B-cell tumours in the AKXD-27 strain. The Evi3 gene encodes a zinc-finger protein with sequence similarity to the Early B-cell Factor-Associated Zinc-finger gene (EBFAZ). We show that the Evi3 gene is overexpressed in several tumours with viral insertions at Evi3, which results in the upregulation of Early B-cell Factor (EBF)-target gene expression, suggesting that Evi3 modulates EBF activity. Reconstitution of primary leukemia cells showed that these tumours express high densities of the B-cell surface proteins CD19 and CD38, which are EBF targets. Using a transactivation assay, we show that the terminal six zinc-fingers of Evi3 are required for modification of EBF activity. This is the first evidence that Evi3 expression in tumours alters the level of EBF target genes, and the first characterization of the Evi3 protein domains required for modulation of EBF activity. Further, these data imply that Evi3 misexpression initiates tumourigenesis by perturbing B-cell development via an interaction with EBF.

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Lossie, AC, Nakamura, H, Thomas, SE, and Justice MJ 2005. Mutation of l(7)3Rn shows that Odz4 is required for mouse gastrulation, Genetics 169(1): 285-299. PMID:15489520

A mouse homolog of the Drosophila pair-rule gene Odd Oz (Odz4) maps to the critical region of the l7Rn3 locus on mouse chromosome 7. Here we show that Odz4 is an excellent candidate for this allelic series because (1) it spans the entire critical region, (2) the phenotypes correlate with embryonic expression, (3) the complex genetic inheritance of the alleles is consistent with complex transcriptional regulation, and (4) one allele has a mutation in a conserved amino acid. Odz4 uses five alternate promoters that encode both secreted and membrane-bound proteins. Intragenic complementation of the l7Rn3 alleles is consistent with these multiple-protein isoforms. Further, the allelic series shows that Odz4 is required to establish the anterior-posterior axis of the gastrulating mouse embryo and is necessary later for mesoderm-derived tissues such as somites, heart, and skeleton. Sequencing of RT-PCR products from five of the six alleles reveals a nonconservative amino acid change in the l7Rn3(m4) allele. This amino acid is important evolutionarily, as it is conserved to Drosophila. Together, our data indicate that Odz4 is mutated in the l7Rn3 allele series and performs roles in the mouse brain, heart, and embryonic patterning similar to those of its Drosophila counterpart.

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Kile, BT, Hentges, KE, Clark, A, Nakamura, H, Salinger, AP, Liu, B, Box, N, Stockton, DW, Johnson, RL, Behringer, RR, Bradley, A and Justice, MJ 2003. Functional genetic analysis of mouse Chromosome 11, Nature 485: 81-86,PMID: 12955145, featured in Nature News and Views: “A Balancing Act” By Janet Rossant

Now that the mouse and human genome sequences are complete, biologists need systematic approaches to determine the function of each gene. A powerful way to discover gene function is to determine the consequence of mutations in living organisms. Large-scale production of mouse mutations with the point mutagen N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU) is a key strategy for analysing the human genome because mouse mutants will reveal functions unique to mammals, and many may model human diseases. To examine genes conserved between human and mouse, we performed a recessive ENU mutagenesis screen that uses a balancer chromosome, inversion chromosome 11 (refs 4, 5). Initially identified in the fruitfly, balancer chromosomes are valuable genetic tools that allow the easy isolation of mutations on selected chromosomes. Here we show the isolation of 230 new recessive mouse mutations, 88 of which are on chromosome 11. This genetic strategy efficiently generates and maps mutations on a single chromosome, even as mutations throughout the genome are discovered. The mutations reveal new defects in haematopoiesis, craniofacial and cardiovascular development, and fertility.

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Noveroske, J, Lai, L, Gaussin, V, Northrop, JL, Nakamura, H, Hirschi, KK, and Justice, MJ 2002. Quaking is essential for blood vessel development. Genesis 32: 218-230. PMID: 11892011

For nearly 40 years functional studies of the mouse quaking gene (qkI) have focused on its role in the postnatal central nervous system during myelination. However, the homozygous lethality of a number of ENU-induced alleles reveals that quaking has a critical role in embryonic development prior to the start of myelination. In this article, we show that quaking has a previously unsuspected and essential role in blood vessel development. Interestingly, we found that quaking, a nonsecreted protein, is expressed in the yolk sac endoderm, adjacent to the mesodermal site of developing blood islands, where the differentiation of blood and endothelial cells first occurs. Antibodies against PE-CAM-1, TIE-2 and SM-alpha-actin reveal that embryos homozygous for the qk(k2) allele have defective yolk sac vascular remodeling and abnormal vessels in the embryo proper at midgestation, coinciding with the timing of embryonic death. However, these mutants exhibit normal expression of Nkx2.5 and alpha-sarcomeric actin, indicating that cardiac muscle differentiation was normal. Further, they had normal embryonic heart rates in culture, suggesting that cardiac function was not compromised at this stage of embryonic development. Together, these results suggest that quaking plays an essential role in vascular development and that the blood vessel defects are the cause of embryonic death.

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